Government needs to dig deeper in its pocket to fight bird flu

A mentor for around 70 small-scale black ostrich farmers in Eastern Cape described the money allocated to combat H5N2 Avian Influenza as a pittance.

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It’s a pittance. This is how a mentor for around 70 small-scale black ostrich farmers in Eastern Cape described the R7 million that Pravin Gordhan, minister of finance, recently allocated to the agriculture department to combat the H5N2 Avian Influenza outbreak that occurred earlier this year.

The outbreak brought to a halt exports of unprocessed ostrich products. “The ban is an absolute disaster for emerging small-scale black ostrich farmers,” said Martin Fick, who mentors the 70 farmers under the Khula Sizwe Small-Scale Ostrich Farmers’ Participation Incentive Trust.

“My farmers have about 3 000 ostriches that are ready, or nearly ready for slaughter and because of the ban they’re only going to get between R16/kg and R17/kg live weight for their birds. Before the export ban, they got between R28/kg and R29/kg.”

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Anton Kruger, CEO of the SA Ostrich Business Chamber, told Farmer’s Weekly that the industry is thankful for every bit of support it had received from government. “The industry has thus far received about R47 million, both from provincial and national government, as compensation for farmers who had to cull ostriches.

The R7 million that has just been granted by the Treasury will probably be used to compensate farmers in the Mossel Bay area who will have to start culling due to a possible further outbreak of the H5N2 virus,” he said.

Johan Stumpf, managing director of Klein Karoo Limited, said that SA’s established ostrich farmers were also battling to make a profit during the ban. He said that he couldn’t comment on the R7 million figure because he didn’t know enough about it.

“The Klein Karoo Group is fortunate in that we have sufficient ostrich skin stock to carry us through the next six months to a year. But our profit is getting smaller as the ban continues. Farmers are struggling as they can’t slaughter,” added Stumpf.

Cornie Swart, president of farmers union Agri Wes-Cape, said that farmers are grateful for the compensation they’d already received from government and for the R7 million allocated recently. However, Swart added that, based on experience with the disease, the R7 million would not be enough to counter the H5N2 virus in the country. Swart said that it cost R4 million to compensate Mossel Bay farmers for the recent H5N2 outbreak.

“Until now, the tax payer covered the costs of government animal health technicians to come out to ostrich farms to take samples,” Swart said. “But the Western Cape agriculture department announced that from 1 November ostrich farmers would have to pay for these services themselves, namely R269/h and R2,60/km.”

The Western Cape agriculture department said it can’t comment on the R7 million because it had not yet seen the agriculture department’s conditions for the use of the money. – Lloyd Phillips

Ostrich farmers need more than the government’s recently allocated R7 million to fight the H5N2 Avian Influenza virus.